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Cath Cooke

How I run happy and healthy – Cath Cooke

Back in January 2020, Cath Cooke (pictured above with husband Dave) was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Having run regularly for 20 years, the 44-year-old was forced to take a break from exercise as she received cancer treatment. Just 10 months later, after being given the all-clear, she took part in the first virtual Vitality London 10,000, attracted by the #CelebrateYou message, the opportunity to feel connected to others taking part and the desire to run for her head and her heart.

Why did you start running?
I started running when I was at university (25 years ago!) because it was free and required very little kit to get started. I enjoyed the freedom of being able to go out for a run, which I could do at my own pace and with no pressure, rather than trying to squeeze into the gym or a swimming pool full of students.

What motivates you to run?
Over the years, many different things have motivated me to run, from personal bests to charity fundraising. I feel a sense of achievement after a run; I know I’ve spent my time doing something purposeful. Now I run as part of my overall health, wellbeing and self-care – it helps me to de-stress and enjoy the outdoors.

How often do you go out running?
When I’m training for an event, I’ll usually run up to five times a week, but this can sometimes be challenging to fit in. I’m not running as much as I’d like at the moment as I’m still recovering from the cancer treatment I had last year, but I am working my way through the brilliant Couch to 5K programme.

Celebrate You is all about running for your head and your heart. Has running helped improve your mental health?
YES. I didn’t realise how much until I had to stop last year when I was having chemotherapy. It made me realise that running was my escape, my quiet time, my time to think and to decompress from work and all the other stresses of life. Now I am back running again, and I have that time back, I realise that it improves my mood, my confidence and gives me space to process all the things whizzing around my noisy head.

What would your advice be for a first-time runner or someone considering taking up running?
Run for fun. If you don’t love it, you won’t stick to it. Start small and grow from there. If every run is progress, that’ll feel great. If you put too much pressure on yourself to go too far, too fast, you won’t enjoy it. Don’t chuck a load of money at fancy gear. Do plan your routes and ensure your safety.

You took part in the first-ever virtual Vitality London 10,000 last year and you’ve signed up again for this spring’s event – why should other people sign up and join you?
I walked last year’s event with my husband Dave because I wasn’t strong enough to run it. I was really attracted to the #CelebrateYou theme after getting the all-clear after my treatment. I would encourage others to sign up as it’s great fun to be part of a movement.

A virtual event like the Vitality London 10,000 is such a flexible way to get into running events – if you want to be on your own you can be (rather than on a mass start); if you want to run with a group, you can (subject to Covid guidelines) and if you want to connect with a running community through social media, it’s a great way to keep in touch with other runners. It’s all on your terms and that’s surely the best way to Celebrate You!

How do you make running fun?
I head out with Dave, or with a friend (when we gossip and set the world to rights) and try to keep things interesting by exploring new routes (I’m lucky to live in Devon), running off-road, saying hello to other runners and cyclists and ensuring there is very good cake to enjoy at the end!

Do you think virtual events have changed people’s attitudes towards taking part and, if so, how?
Yes, because people can do it on their own terms. But more than anything, it’s a basic human need to want connection. The usual ways we’ve connected as a running community, by taking part in parkrun or signing up for mass events, aren’t possible at the moment, so people have embraced virtual events as an alternative way to take part – whether that’s to chase a personal best or to run-walk the whole thing.

Accessibility was the appeal of parkrun and look how that movement has grown and developed into a community. I think virtual events and campaigns like #CelebrateYou can do the same, as more people than ever will want to connect and take part of their own terms.

What are you most looking forward to about this year’s virtual Vitality London 10,000?
The sense of achievement I will have at the end. After a few years off with illness and injury I’m looking forward to the high that comes with stopping the watch, completing the distance (in whatever time that may be) and reinstating my traditional post-run celebratory banquet.